Nations: Where’s that panic button?

I don’t keep a panic button handy anywhere near my desk, and Thursday night was a prime example why.

Had I in fact installed such a device anywhere in my workplace during last week’s Washington Redskins game against the formerly “winless in North America” Minnesota Vikings, I might well have mashed that button straight through my desk, down a couple floors of the building and straight through the substrata to log somewhere deep, deep in the igneous rock lurking miles below my feet.

Panic buttons are for panicking, right? And last Thursday’s second-half meltdown/fizzle certainly qualified as panic-inducing for any Redskins fan. This one had all the elements of an anxiety-inducing spectacle. The offense looked great, then didn’t. The defense played sort of OK, then didn’t. The special teams were awful, again. This has become an all-too-familiar spectacle for Washington fans this season, and really with minor alterations and the odd playoff year thrown in has been the standard level of play for this franchise since I started paying any kind of attention to the Redskins by moving to this area in 2000. That, coincidentally, is shortly after the time Dan Snyder leveraged his way into purchasing the franchise.

This is not a Snyder-bashing column; I don’t feel like getting in that line today. Rather, I’m wondering just what to expect from this franchise the rest of the way. Is it to be more of the same erratic, mostly maddening play we’ve seen on both sides of the ball, sprinkled with a heavy dose of truly horrific special teams play? Or will it all somehow come together once more, like last year’s miraculous 7-0 regular-season finish that vaulted the Redskins to the top of the NFC East and on into the playoffs behind the dazzling play of rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III?

Griffin, complete with a plethora of brutal hits incurred against the Vikings, looks at least close to the level he played at last season. He remains supremely dangerous when running the option-read look, and has looked better (to me, anyway) back in the pocket. He needs to get more comfortable back there and stay there, where (hopefully) he’ll get a little more protection than Washington attempted to provide against Minnesota last week. Griffin was absolutely pounded by the Vikings, and not all those hard hits were his own doing.

Being the optimist, let’s say RG3 does manage to stay upright and relatively healthy the rest of the season. He’s shown a real connection with top receiving threat Pierre Garcon, and rookie tight end Jordan Reed. The makings of a dangerous passing game are there, and that combined with the hard-charging style of running back Alfred Morris and Griffin’s own still-dangerous scrambling ability still lends credence to the idea that the Redskins are a dangerous offense.

Defense has been another story. The Redskins were largely shredded by Minnesota’s suddenly efficient attack. Part of that was the necessary attention paid to superstar running back Adrian Peterson, but other than Brian Orakpo’s early sack Washington had virtually no pass rush. That allowed Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder to look kind of good, which he isn’t, and helped backup Matt Cassel survive for a decent relief effort when Ponder went out with a shoulder injury.

Washington has serious issues in the secondary, as well, despite a great season from veteran cornerback DeAngelo Hall. A weak secondary in the pass-happy NFL is a recipe for disaster, and the Redskins have shown few signs of improvement.

The special teams — let’s not even go there. OK, let’s go there a bit. Washington is painfully transitioning to a new scheme this season under first-year coordinator Keith Burns. Painful for those who follow the Redskins, at least, as this unit has been the equivalent of a gas-can middle reliever serving up three-run homers. It can only get better, you’d think.

All that being said, the Redskins — the 3-6 Redskins — are still in the playoff hunt. That’s in large part due to the universally moribund NFC East, where only the Dallas Cowboys have much of an edge in the division race. A rematch with the Philadelphia Eagles, who scalded the flat-footed Redskins with their new offense in the season opener, opens what Washington fans hope will be another breathless charge to the finish. The Eagles have been exposed as something less than dynamite, and the Redskins still have two games left against the underwhelming New York Giants and one against the Cowboys, plus what looks like a winnable game against the Atlanta Falcons.

That leaves two games which don’t look so favorable — Nov. 25 at home against the San Francisco 49ers and Dec. 8 at home against the resurgent Kansas City Chiefs. Washington needs to win those, too, to duplicate last season’s seven-game run.

Excuse me while I search for a button to push.

Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com>. Follow on Twitter @J_NationsNVD